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National Star College has asked us to find out what Mumsnetters who have children with special educational needs look out for when choosing a college.
Here’s what National Star say, “With campuses across the UK, National Star College works with young people with disabilities aged between 16 and 25 years. It offers a range of courses based around each young person’s interests, needs and aspirations while being supported by experienced therapists, medical and care teams.
“National Star has two main aims. The first is to enable the students to achieve their goals and work with them to gain skills for their future lives. National Star also wants to change the way society values people with disabilities so it works with individuals and other organisations to challenge stereotypes, build expertise and raise aspirations. To find out more about National Star College please visit www.natstar.org.uk email firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 01242 534928.”
So what information do you need when choosing a college? Do you know what your rights are? Do you know what colleges are available and what specialist support they can provide? Are you able to choose the college that is right for your son or daughter?
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I need to know that the staff will cope with my son (non-verbal, severely autistic & with challenging behaviours when anxious). As far as I can see his behaviours are far more of a barrier to him in accessing provisions than his autism or learning disabilities.
We are coming up to transition btw and the view from where I am is pretty dire.
We are in the middle of transition and ds will have to find somewhere for September - hardly any information out there re choices available and the LA local offer doesn't seem to go beyond school or mainstream FE.
I am having to do all the legwork and am only getting information from other mums whose dc are a year or two older. Problem is, their kids have different needs to ds and I have no idea if there is anywhere out there for him.
I want a college where they are experts in the field of his disability, where they can cater for my ds by providing him with a curriculum that is relevant and meaningful to him and one which will give him opportunities to be involved in his local community and give him a head start when it comes to moving on and if able, move to supported living and supported employment.
The last thing I want is a college which is nothing more than a time filler until he is old enough to move on.
I want him to be safe, supported in achieving his goals and happy. Ds1 has asd, is 12 and in mainstream school. The school have said they can't offer post 16 education and I have looked at the local college prospectuses, both of which offer asd specific life skill type courses that have extra support staff with the option to take other courses too. I feel incredibly lucky that ds1 has got to year 8 being happy and settled at school, he loves his cohort that's been with him since reception. I am hoping he can make bonds in a new setting. Ds1 has lots of aspirations, but his lack of basic literacy and numeracy combined with lack ofsocialskills will make the future challenging. It would be great if the college could network with potential employers. If I let myself think about ds1's future too hard it makes me very worried.
I have two autistic children, aged 10 and 12. I'd want to know they were both happy in their environment and supported towards reaching their goals.
Ideally with a consistent point of contact and someone who is easily accessible if issues arise.
Someone who will treat my child as the individual they are but have SN training and be willing to accept that autism is a spectrum and each child is individual.
Ideally it would be nice to have college sorted out a year or more before school leaving ago so that plenty of transition visits can be organised.
A clear policy with regards to bullying and inclusion would be a necessity.
It's a little way off for my son at the moment but I would want to know he is in a happy and safe environment with knowledgable staff/teachers who are able to deal with my sons behaviour. Good communication is also key as at present he is non verbal & we don't know if that would ever change.
I would also want to feel confident he is learning to the best of his ability - just because he has additional needs he still has the right to learn.
Also, someone like a key worker. a designated person to help the child AND the parent for help and advice with the college, course, rights etc.
My DS is looking at university engineering courses, so probably isn't the target readership for this (he has Aspergers/HFA, but OCD is his larger difficulty at present). But we're looking at what can be offered in the way of stress relief, safe spaces, and frequent mentoring, as his levels of anxiety rise very quickly when everything is too unstructured.
A keyworker would be fab. That's what he's had throughout (mainstream) school.
This is a long way off for us so reading with interest. A key worker will be essential for SD and also for any other staff to have an understanding of her needs. A safe environment where she can be happy and is able to learn independence skills and feel like an adult is what we are hoping for her.
Ds has aspergers, he's only 8 at the moment but I would think thst having a key worker to assist him or a teaching assistant type person for him would be extremely useful as sometimes he doesnt understand what he is supposed to be doing and can be extremely literal so someone he knows has the time to help him one on one should he need reasurrance etc.
Also reading with interest as is quite a way off yet but really important to feel fully informed.
I would want somewhere for my daughter that offers a good transition programme as she's likely to be very anxious about change. I will be looking for a key person to liaise with as is absolutely key. Inclusive clubs and activities (my DD is likely to be mainstream with support). Accessible buildings and adequate timetabling to get to lessons/tutorials without getting caught in a crush of students on the way. Basically a really thorough plan before she starts!
I would like tutors to recognise that episodes of difficult behaviour are triggered by anxiety and/or sensory overload. I would like less emphasis on achievements measured by traditional means. My son can talk articulately at length about many subjects but struggles to process his thoughts when written down. I would hope to see clear processes in place to back up home learning as he struggles to remember what he needs to do when a lesson is over but also struggles to write down instruction in a timely and legible manner.
I want there to be information available on courses and what support is available. College needs to encourage independence but recognise it is not always possible and not leave him floundering. They need to be interested in him as an individual with a unique manifestation of his disability that they need to understand. My son has no common sense or sense of danger so is extremely vulnerable. He needs to be safe. Communications with the college must be good and would need to keep parents in the loop so I can support him at home.
I have 2 children with ASD, age 8 and 11.
As their needs are very different, I will be looking for different types of post 16 placements for them. DS1 has high academic potential and will need to be able to fulfil that, in whatever way turns out to be appropriate, over the next 5 years. I envisage that DS2 will need more of a focus on basic skills and life skills.
What both boys will need is a lot of support to overcome their difficulties in an educational setting. DS1 has the greatest dichotomy between academic and physical, social and emotional capability. He is easily bored and easily stressed. Socially and emotionally he's functioning like a young child and he needs a lot of support - organisation, sticking to a timetable, staying calm and safe, keeping healthy and so on. His current school does support young men through college, so hopefully, we do have options here.
My son was diagnosed with severe dyspaxia and atypical autism, when he was very young. He is now 21 and has just gone to uni. He was in a spcial unit til he was 11, and we were told his needs were moderate - not mild or severe. When he reached 11 there were no more special units and he got thrown into the mainstream with very little specialist support(which he hated).
He left school without passing a single GCSE at C or above. Then ended up going to the local college. I had never heard of National Star College and would have been very interested, if I had. The school never mentioned anything like it. He did a BTEC in Art and Graphic Design and is now doing a degree in Graphic Design. I heard a discussion on Radio 4 where they said - and I don't know if this is true - only 5% of autistic kids make it into further education.
I simply wish we'd been told something with more specialist support existed! My son had to work for 5 years to get his qualifications to go to uni and the last year the college managed to fund for him when funding ran out. They were excellent. He may have got qualified sooner with more specialist support, though.
We will be looking for sn support in university, not a specific sn college, so I don't think we fit the demographic for this? But essentially we need a place that can support independence out of class, as well as provide top notch academic study, so need specialist support with technology for record-keeping, as well as assisted living on campus in an increasingly independent manner. I would also like to see specialist support and guidance towards future career, including support to get work-rounds / assistive technologies in place in the work environment, in order to reduce discrimination or perceived difficulties against hiring employees with disabilities.
I haven't heard of star college. I am familiar with a number of sn options, and am always impressed by those that incorporate relationship support and guidance alongside the skills for living/ tuition. It isn't something that we need, but helps to promote normal relationships and prevent some vulnerable students being taken advantage of.
So what information do you need when choosing a college?
What facilities do they have? Are the key workers trained to a high level? What do they teach in the way of living a more independent life?
Do you know what your rights are? No
Do you know what colleges are available and what specialist support they can provide? I only know of the Star College, it's a large place near to where I live! It has a fantastic name for itself and I highly recommend it.
Are you able to choose the college that is right for your son or daughter. I know if I chose the star college my child would be in the right hands.
Somewhere with amazing pastoral care as well as the academic side being good would be essential for me for my son.
All we get is a hand pushing us firmly towards the local college for disabled students. Anyone wanting to go out lf the area has a fight on their hands.
The most important thing when it comes to my son's education is finding somewhere that genuinely cares about him rather than their own objectives. That is the key factor in deciding where he will go. We would also look for somewhere that was interested in finding out about his specific needs and where they felt confident that they could meet his needs.
It is about recognising each child / young person as an individual. Even those with the same diagnosis can have hugely differing needs and so it is really important for a school / college to recognise that.
I think there is a decent amount of information out there, but you can't rely on the LA to guide you, you need to seek it out yourself. I have a 15 yo with ASD and I'm currently looking at post-16 provision. The National Star College looks great, but he is currently in an autism-specific school and he'd need a college that is autism-specific as well.
I'm on the committee of our parent carer forum and I've attended training events by Ambitious About Autism, Preparing for Adulthood and Contact A Family which have all given useful information about the transition process and post-16 options. There is a lot of information online and I've picked up information visiting events like the Autism Show as well. I've worked my way through the Section 41 list of schools/colleges and visited the website and viewed Ofsted reports for each one.
I'm visiting a few colleges next week and a few more early next year. DS has complex needs and already attends an independent residential special school so I hope that will make it clear to the LA that he will continue to need a specialist (and probably expensive) placement, but I'm sure there will be a new fight nonetheless. I follow websites like Ipsea, Special Needs Jungle etc to keep up to date with the legal stuff I'll need to know when the time comes.
My DS(8) has ASD
So what information do you need when choosing a college?
I need to know how good the pastoral care is and that the head / programme leads are tolerant about disabilities and are able/willing to support my child. I've learnt already that some headteachers are not able to do this and it had a massive negative impact on my DS. Once I happy about the pastoral care I need to look the academic side. My DS excels at Maths but needs support in comprehension. I would also look for staff recommendations - having the right teacher is incredibly important too.
Do you know what your rights are?
I know about the Children and Families Act 2014. However, my DS does not have a statement (or equivalent) and getting one is very difficult for ASD (Aspergers) so accessing this Act is difficult.
Do you know what colleges are available and what specialist support they can provide?
I can find the colleges through my local council website. Then I would look at their website/reports/inspections. I've heard that some have autistic units which suggests they are more likely to be able to support my DS.
Are you able to choose the college that is right for your son or daughter?
Age 16-18 I'd probably stick with the school he was in for continuity if he wants to do A levels. I'd look at Ofsted reports but I know from past experience that these are nowhere near as good as recommendations from those parents who have been through the college already.
For highly able students with SEN, the last question needs to be more 'Have you enough information to help your son or daughter choose the right college for them?', as we're talking about young adults here (16 to 25).
Is a long way off for me, but I'm always interested to read others experiences. My daughters looking duspraxic and it's a worry if school will cater for this appropriately.
Never heard of these guys. I've bookmarked their website so I can take a look.
For me, it's about them meeting my children's needs. How can the college prove to me that they understand my child's needs and that they will be met. How can the college show me that my child will be fully included. What do they do to ensure my child won't be bullied or discriminated against. How will they demonstrate to me that the lessons will be designed in a way (differentiated) that my child can properly access and delivered by a person or people who are suitably qualified and trained to meet my child's needs. How is the college going to support my child's social needs within their environment.
It is my experience that they're good at talking themselves up and not so good at delivering.
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